Recently I read three great books about Chicago. I make no apologies for shameless boosterism. Unlike that woman, I am proud of Chicago.
A Corner of Chicago, by Robert Hardy Andrews, is a firsthand look at our city through the eyes of a young reporter fresh from Minnesota. It is part autobiography, part Chicago history, and part story about one of the great Chicago newspapers, the Chicago Daily News, "The paper that went home". The book is a tale of boozy nights, hunger, and Public Enemies. Bob Andrews was recruited from Minnesota by Henry Justin Smith, one of the best newspaper editors in the history of modern newspapers.
Andrews relates life in Prohibition and Depression Chicago during the late 1920s through the 30s. Bob Andrews was 21 years old when he arrived at the Daily News. He shared an office with the older avuncular poet and reporter, Carl Sandburg. He credits Sandburg with instilling humility during his brash and successful youth.
Andrews was editor of Midweek Magazine, wrote novels, and later wrote many of the original soap operas for radio, all at the same time. He is credited with creating Jack Armstrong the All American Boy for Wheaties. He created the Wheaties' slogan "Breakfast of Champions".
The book is also the story of Andrew's midwestern work ethic. He weaves tales of nightlife as he relates all the various forms of writing he accomplished. To say he was prolific is an understatement. He was even amazed there were enough hours in the day and days in the week to report, edit, write radio copy and novels, and carouse, let alone find time to sleep.
A Corner of Chicago is a story about the newspaper business, reporters, rogues, skallywags, rapscallions, speakeasies, entertainers, newspaper characters, and Chicago's near north Tower Town. It is a book about writing, drinking, reporting, entertainment, and life in the big city. It is a fond memoir of Chicago. Andrews eventually moved to Hollywood and became a screenwriter and movie consultant.
Makers and Breakers of Chicago, by Jay Robert Nash, is the story of Chicago through some of its most famous citizens. From the first mayor, Long John Wentworth to Richard J. Daley. Aside from politicians, the book tells the stories of great sports figures like Amos Alonzo Stagg, George Halas, and the creation of the Chicago White Sox and Cubs. It is also the tale of criminals, authors, merchants, bullies, and egomaniacs.
Jay Robert Nash is another of the great prolific Chicago writers. He is the author of over seventy books, mostly of the True Crime genre. He was also a great raconteur and roamed the reporter and writer bars with Mike Royko, Studs Terkel, and Roger Ebert, among others.
1001 Afternoons in Chicago by Ben Hecht. It is a compilation of columns Hect wrote from 1921 onward. Hecht, along with editor Henry Justin Smith, thought journalism could also be literature. The "Big Idea" was, "Just under the edge of the news as commonly understood, the news often flatly and unimaginatively told, lay life; that in this urban life there dwelt the stuff of literature...he was going to be its interpreter". (Henry Justin Smith's preface to the first column)
The book was compiled from microfilms of the original columns and published by the University of Chicago Press. The columns are a vivid picture of Chicago, its characters, and caricatures. Hecht took literary license to breath life into the people and places he wrote about.
Chicago has always been a great newspaper town. It also has given the world great writers, including Nelson Algren, Studs Terkel, Saul Bellow, Gwendolyn Brooks, Theodore Dreiser, James T. Farrell, Upton Sinclair, Carl Sandburg, Richard Wright, Herman Kogan, and his son Rick Kogan, who works for the Chicago Tribune, to name a few.
"Find a writer who has something American to say, and nine times out of ten you will find he has some connection with the Gargantuan abattoir by Lake Michigan- he was bred there,or got his start there, or passed through there when he was young and tender." (Henry L. Mencken/American Mercury 1933)
Shameless boosterism. You betcha.
Note: I purchased A Corner of Chicago at the Newberry Library sale. It is out of print. Makers and Breakers of Chicago is available at Amazon. 1001 Afternoons in Chicago is available at Barnes and Noble in the Chicago section and Amazon.
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